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Recent changes to HR law

This article outlines recent changes in workplace law relating to:

  • occupational health and safety;
  • anti-discrimination; and
  • alcohol and drug abuse policy.
Prue Elletson

New Work Health and Safety Laws introduced

On 1 January 2012, new model work, health and safety legislation came into effect in New South Wales, Queensland, the ACT and the Northern Territory, and at the Commonwealth level.

The new laws attempt to streamline occupational health and safety regulation across the country by providing a consistent set of legislation, regulations and codes of practice for certain industries and occupations.

Importantly, the new laws introduced the following changes:

  • Any person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has duties to those affected by the business or undertaking. Previously, only employers, owners and occupiers owed duties to people affected by their business.
  • The legislation applies to 'workers', rather than just employees. Workers include employees, volunteers, contractors and students.
  • There are positive duties for officers of businesses to exercise 'due diligence' to ensure their business satisfies its health and safety obligations. An officer of a business includes senior officers who participate in key decision-making that affects the business, or a substantial part of the business. To exercise 'due diligence', an officer must:
    • acquire and keep up-to-date knowledge of work health and safety matters;
    • gain an understanding of the nature of the operations of the business, and generally understand the hazards and risks associated with those operations;
    • ensure that the business is appropriately resourced to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety;
    • ensure that the business is appropriately resourced to receive and consider information about incidents, hazards and risks, and to respond to that information in a timely way; and
    • ensure that the PCBU has in place, and implements, processes to comply with its duties and obligations.
  • Businesses have a new duty to consult, co-operate and co-ordinate activities with other PCBUs. At some workplaces, there will be multiple businesses or undertakings, each with overlapping duties.

The Cleardocs HR Manual sets out the general occupational health and safety duties of employees of your business. There is no need to change your Cleardocs HR Manual to reflect the recent changes in the law.

You should, however, take this opportunity to review your occupational health and safety systems. In particular, officers in your business must exercise due diligence and check health and safety measures are appropriate, and are being implemented.

New anti-discrimination duties for Victorian employers

Since 1 August 2011, Victorian employers have been required to comply with a new duty to protect employees from discrimination.

The Victorian legislation states that discrimination occurs when a person treats another person unfavourably because of a personal characteristic or attribute protected by law. The person claiming to be discriminated against does not need to compare their treatment to how others are treated.

Employers are required to:

  • take proactive steps to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation in the workplace; and
  • provide reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities to assist them to perform their job effectively.

There is no need to update your Cleardocs HR Manual as a result of these changes to the law. The Cleardocs HR Manual:

  • includes a statement of commitment to equal opportunity in the workplace;
  • sets out standards of conduct that employees must adhere to in the workplace; and
  • provides a procedure for employers to follow if an employee complains of discrimination or harassment.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Policy

Recent cases before Australia's employment tribunals have shown the value of having, and enforcing, a drug and alcohol policy. Fair Work Australia has found that in certain employment situations, being affected by alcohol is grounds for termination of employment. However, employers must act fairly when implementing the policy.

The Cleardocs HR Manual includes:

  • an Alcohol and Drug Abuse Policy that sets out rules of conduct for employees; and
  • a Disciplinary Procedure and Sanctions Policy that sets out the steps an employer may take when considering disciplinary action for breaches of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Policy.

Employers should ensure that they train employees on the content of the policies.

More information from Maddocks

For more information, contact Maddocks on (03) 9288 0555 and ask to speak to a member of the Employment Team.


Lawyer in Profile

Alisha Wright
Alisha Wright
+61 3 9258 3007

Qualifications: BCom, LLB (Hons), Monash University

Alisha is a member of Maddocks Commercial team. She assists her clients in a variety of commercial matters.

Alisha has experience in:

  • development structuring,
  • business structuring,
  • shareholder and partnership agreements,
  • distribution arrangements, and
  • general commercial advice.

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